Close your eyes and imagine Croydon. Does it include robots that clean, rooftop farming, or drone delivery bays? For the winners of the Design Future London Challenge, it does.
Launched at the start of 2023, the competition received over 4000 applications from primary school pupils through to university students. By embracing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the challenge aimed to inspire young Londoners to design beautiful, affordable and sustainable places to live, work and visit. Thanks to Education licences supplied by Microsoft as part of the initiative, Minecraft was a key tool used by many of the pupils.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “We were blown away by the fantastic ideas and designs young Londoners came up with to create the Croydon town centre of the future, from sustainable housing and community spaces to art and transport. Partnering with Minecraft Education has made this challenge even more fun and engaging and I congratulate all the young people who took part. They will be designing the homes and green spaces of future generations and I hope will continue our work to build a safer, fairer, greener and more prosperous city for all Londoners.”
“I was blown away by the variety and quality of entries to Design Future London,” said George Clarke. “Each design was incredibly well thought out and took into account the varied and complex challenges facing Croydon, and London more generally.”
Justin Edwards, Director of Learning Experiences of Minecraft Education said: “I’ve been impressed by the innovation and creativity students of all ages have showcased in the Design Futures competition. Their diverse perspectives produced imaginative visions of ways to make Croydon, and London, a better place to live. I’m delighted to see how they’ve put their STEM skills to good use, to reimagine the spaces we live and work in. And I am sure they had fun using Minecraft, too.”
Winners were announced at an event at London City Hall on Friday 14 July, with prizes including cash awards of £250 for the 11-15 and 16-18 categories that could be put toward design equipment for their school labs.
Find out more about the winning entries, listed below.
5-11 year category: Croydon Remixed
Brothers Paramraj and Manraj, from a primary school in Havering, created Croydon Remixed. Their approach was to maximise existing buildings. By adding gyms, a green roof with a drone delivery platform, a central courtyard with a mosaic floor, and a big screen, they envisioned a shared space that could be enjoyed by all the community.
Eleven-year-old Paramraj was responsible for the redesign of the existing buildings, while eight-year-old Manraj created the city park and farm.
“We like the idea of 15-minute cities – where everything is close by, so you don’t need to travel as far and you create less pollution as a result,” said Paramraj.
The brothers were delighted with their win and looked dapper in their matching Minecraft shirts at the event. “It has been so much fun to do this challenge. We’re so excited to win!” said Manraj.
“I would absolutely encourage other pupils to try this challenge,” added Paramraj. “Minecraft is one of the best software you can use when planning a town in this way. It really helps bring it to life and prepare it.”
11-15 year (secondary school): Eco Builders and Spazio Verde
This category resulted in a tie, with two teams taking home the title. First up is Eco Builders, a team of four students – Tom, Kit, Emilia, and Louis – from Highgate Wood School in Haringey. Their vision was “repurpose not rebuild,” with a view to creating an environmentally friendly community in the North End area of Croydon.
Their solution included implementing pedestrian-friendly green routes, building affordable and eco-friendly homes, creating communal allotments and green spaces, promoting sustainable living practices and encouraging eco-friendly transport options.
“We chose to repurpose and not rebuild,” explained Tom. “We didn’t want to take away from Croydon, and we wanted to emphasise community.” Tom led on the vision, Kit and Emilia led the research and Louis was the planning permission expert. “We wanted to understand what was possible so that when it came to building on our vision, we knew it could come to fruition,” Louis added.
What would a city designed by women look like? That’s what the team by Spazio Verde set out to discover. Nahian, Duaa, Khaira, Sriyaanvy, and Zahra are all students at The Ursuline Academy, Ilford. Their vision was a Croydon that embraced technology to move toward a circular economy. They were rhe runners-up in last years event and this year they took home the joint prize with Eco Builders, as well as being runners up in the People’s Vote for their category.
“We wanted to move away from the ‘we take, we make, we use, and we lose’ approach that so many communities have, toward a more circular economy,” said Nahian.
Instead, Spazio Verde created a diverse scene of art, food, and culture. Spaces were created for the community to work, shop and play all under one roof while offering homes with little or no bills. It included “The Croydon Factory” – an inclusive high street for all the community, powered by biodiverse and renewable energy. They even created a robot to help clean and maintain the community hub.
A special mention goes to their inspiring teacher, Rose Russell, who is set to retire at the end of this academic year. Rose is a strong advocate for the importance of STEM in education, creating a STEM club at the school and taking the students to events such as Future Build to help them create partnerships with sustainable building companies. “I’m so proud of the Spazio Verde team. They have worked so hard on this and forged partnerships with multiple companies including Polysolar, who helped them integrate real-world fabrics into their models,” Rose explained.
Over 70% of the students at Ursuline Academy go on to have STEM-related careers, which it’s a testament to the work of Rose and her colleagues. Rose’s work was recognised by the team at Greater London Assembly at the Design Future Challenge event.
16-18: Croydon Super Gardens and Old Palace of John Whitgift School
The 16-18 years-old category also resulted in a tie, with Croydon Super Gardens and Old Palace of John Whitgift School taking home a prize each.
Croydon Super Gardens was the creation of Aila and Nena from Edmonton County School. They identified an opportunity to create green space in the North End Quarter of Croydon. “We wanted to have a place for people to come together as a community that connected back to nature and enhanced biodiversity,” explained Aila.
They created a nature garden with a destination attraction and activity centre to increase biodiversity, help build a community, and increase civic pride. Building their structures in Minecraft, the Croydon Super Gardens team created decorative gates, flower beds, and an elevator leading into the area.
Aila showcased the models that they created with PVA glazing, which is both sustainable and durable. Aila explained how they initially created their designs in Minecraft before physically creating them. “It’s easier to build on Minecraft than it is to craft in paper and build from there. We can really see what it will look like before committing to the build,” she added.
“We feel our designs will help to make Croydon a destination for not just the people of Croydon but all over the world,” said Nena.
Five students from the Old Palace of John Whitgift School in Croydon proposed a sustainable reuse of the old Allders Department Store. Nishita, Avni, Nicola, Shelise and Kayla saw an opportunity to repurpose the building, which dates to 1862, with modern, sustainable materials.
By creating an exciting focus for the future of Croydon centre, a reimagined Allders would bring together the local community. The revamped building would include art installations on the existing façade, rooftop viewing platforms, and sky gardens. At the heart of the redevelopment is a focus on housing for the homeless and those in temporary accommodation.
The team articulated the importance of creating an environment that would have long-lasting impact for the local community. “We’ve experienced urban deterioration and we wanted to create a space with permanent change,” explained Kayla.
Avni highlighted that one of her favourite suggestions the sustainable gym and how it would harness the power of the kinetic energy to power other parts of the building.
Nicola, who plans to pursue a career in environmental engineering, highlighted the skylight proposal, that would shine natural light all the way through the building. “The swimming pool on the second floor has a glass bottom, which adds more light to the building while also preserving energy as it reduces the number of lights needed to be used.”
19-24: Creative Croydon, UCL
A team of five students from UCL took home the prize for the 19-24 year-old category. Yifan, Jin, Matt, Ben and Eddie were behind Creative Croydon, which centred on creating a more permeable, greener town centre that encourages enterprise through an innovation cluster.
They proposed that the North End area could be revitalised with an indoor market, new youth centre, affordable housing, co-housing schemes for all ages, and rooftop urban farms for the community.
“We wanted to transform Croydon Town Centre into a bustling lifestyle destination providing suitable type of housing, commercial and office spaces. In doing so we can elevate the area, all while meeting London’s net-zero carbon goals,” said Eddie who collected the award on behalf of the full Creative Croydon team.
Creative Croydon’s proposal left no stone unturned, outlining fine details right down to the alignment of trees and species of trees, showcasing the treelined streets that would offset CO2 emissions.